September 28, 2022

Washington – Federal prosecutors have filed a redacted version of the underlying evidence that prompted the Aug. 8 search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence, court records showed Thursday. The sealed submission is now before a magistrate judge who will consider whether to take the unusual step of releasing portions of the secret affidavit to the public.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley issued a statement acknowledging the redacted version had been submitted to the court. “The United States has filed a submission under seal per the Court’s order of Aug. 22,” he said. “The Justice Department respectfully declines further comment as the Court considers the matter.”

The affidavit likely contains more information about government investigators’ concerns regarding the documents allegedly held at Mar-a-Lago. Last week, Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to provide him with proposed redactions to the affidavit – which likely includes witness statements and specific allegations – after media outlets including CBS News pushed for its public release. 

The Justice Department has opposed the affidavit’s release, citing the need to “protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security.” Investigative methods and the identities of FBI agents and witnesses are at stake, prosecutors told the judge, and releasing the affidavit risks chilling future cooperation. 

Before Thursday’s submission, Reinhart, who authorized the search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and has seen the affidavit, indicated he had yet to make up his mind about  portions of it, saying that he thought parts of it might be safely revealed.

“There are portions of it that could, at least, presumptively be unsealed,” Reinhart said in a hearing last week, adding he was “not prepared to find the affidavit should be fully sealed.” But in a written order on Monday, the judge said he “may ultimately” decide not to release any of it “after hearing further from the Government.” 

How much the Justice Department redacted in its submission is unknown, but prosecutors, in their response to the media organizations, said they would likely need to black out so much information that the affidavit would be rendered useless. 

Investigators are examining Trump’s handling of presidential records after the National Archives and Records Administration said in January it had retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records, some of which contained classified national security material, from Mar-a-Lago, and asked the Justice Department to look into the matter.

With the approval of Attorney General Merrick Garland, investigators sought the search warrant that resulted in the Aug. 8 law enforcement action at Trump’s Florida resort, seizing multiple boxes with various classified markings. 

Since the FBI searched Trump’s residence earlier this month, his lawyers filed a lawsuit asking that a special master be appointed to review the additional material seized at Mar-a-Lago for any potential privilege violations and for exceeding the terms of the search warrant. But another Florida judge has notably asked for clarification about  the precise remedy Trump is seeking. 

Trump decried the investigation as political and maintains he did nothing wrong, but a recent court filing by prosecutors indicated that they are looking into multiple alleged violations of law, including “[w]illful retention of national defense information” and obstructing an investigation. 

The National Archives identified over 100 documents with classification markings — including some identified as Top Secret and subject to the protection of sensitive Special Access Programs — following its initial review of the 15 boxes of White House records first collected from Donald Trump’s Florida residence in January, according to a letter sent by the Archives to an attorney for the former president.

The May 10 letter from National Archives Acting Archivist Debra Wall to Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran revealed that Justice Department prosecutors had contacted Trump’s legal team in April to explain the urgent need for access to the documents, explaining they were part of an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

According to Trump’s lawsuit, on May 11 a federal grand jury issued a subpoena “seeking documents bearing classification markings.” By June 3, at the invitation of Trump’s legal team, top Justice Department counterintelligence official Jay Bratt and three FBI agents traveled to Mar-a-Lago where they retrieved some responsive documents and examined the room in which they were stored. Weeks later, on June 22, investigators subpoenaed footage from Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras.  

Federal investigators are now looking closely at video evidence they’ve obtained, which shows people at Mar-a-Lago accessing storage areas where some of Trump’s papers were being held — including some classified documents, according to a U.S. official.

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